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Best Fine Dining Option -- Oahu

phillybakingqueen Mar 8, 2012 07:49 AM

My parents will be in Oahu in June. I would like to buy them a gift certificate to the best fine dining restaurant. At first glance, I'm thinking La Mer. I see Hunt recommends requesting a table overlooking the House Without a Key and dining at show time. Any other suggestions? Thanks!

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  1. m
    mwest9 Mar 8, 2012 09:06 AM

    It seems, from my regular reading of this board, the top options for fine dining in Honolulu have remained the same for quite a few years:

    La Mer

    Alan Wong's

    Mavro's

    and then some throw in places like:

    Roy's

    Hau Tree Lanai

    Michel's at the Colony

    Azure

    and a bunch of others.

    There are LOTS of threads describing all these places if you dig a little bit, but you'd probably get a better response if you described in more detail what kind of experience you are wanting for you parents, e.g what kind of cuisine, quiet and refined or boisterous and energetic, beachside or a view, chef's tasting menu, etc etc.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mwest9
      Bill Hunt Mar 12, 2012 08:08 PM

      Of those, I have not dined at Azure (but it gets great reviews from respected posters, so it MUST be good), and I can recommend the rest. Now, I had a less-than-great experience at Michel's, BUT that was but one trip, and others here tell me that I really must try them again. I will do just that, as I trust those posters, and they do have more experience, than I do.

      For me, it would be, and probably in this order:

      La Mer
      Alan Wong's
      Chef Mavro's
      Orchids (have done their brunch, but have many respected suggestions on dinner there)
      Hau Tree (a bit less "fine dining," but they HAVE come thru for me many times)

      Most of all, enjoy!

      Hunt

      PS - At La Mer, I am a big, big fan of one of the tables, overlooking HWAK (House Without a Key), though the Pacific-view tables are nice. One just cannot go too far wrong, with a great Hawaiian "review" down below their table, in such a lovely setting.

    2. u
      UES Mayor Mar 9, 2012 04:02 AM

      La Mer!!!-there- wasn't that easy?

      1. KaimukiMan Mar 9, 2012 08:48 AM

        La Mer gets the highest ratings over the longest period of time. It is a superb restaurant prepared in a 'modern' French style. Even the menu is largely in French. The setting is wonderful, especially with the view that Hunt recommends. They have a menu on their website.

        Having said that, there are excellent French restaurants everywhere. If you want something with a more regional bent, then Alan Wong's would be your best choice. Mavro after that. No doubt your parents will have a stunning meal at any of the three.

        5 Replies
        1. re: KaimukiMan
          Steve R Mar 9, 2012 03:19 PM

          Since I always troll this board before one of our trips to Oahu (we'll be there for the entire month of May this time), I figure I might as well put my 2cents in on this, having eaten at most of the listed places. Since we're New Yawkers (well, Brooklyn actually), I'll give some NYC reference points in case you're familiar:

          La Mer: far and away, the best combination of food and ambience, leading to the biggest effect ("bang for the buck")... especially for a gift. It's the most impressive/beautiful place to eat, with the water right there, the island feel all around you, music outside (follow Hunt's advice about the table overlooking HWAK during show time) & excellently prepared classic food. I'd liken it to Le Bernadin (although maybe a notch below in actual cooking, makes up for it in room/ambience)

          Alan Wong: our favorite place. Especially for folks who love the workings of a restaurant, from the well run open kitchen to the idea of a creative chef turning out top of the line food. However, although the room is classy, it's more like an inner city (Philly, NYC...) type place with a local menu. But, if your parents are into this, get them counter seats at the open kitchen and have them eat the tasting menu. I'd liken it to Hearth, although Wong's food is probably a notch better.

          Mavro: the chef's the thing. It's his show and everything is geared to him presenting a very fine dining experience to his patrons. Reminds me more of upscale Michellin dining than anything else. Maybe compare to Daniel or Bouley?

          Hau Tree Lanai: if what your parents want is atmosphere, this is on the water (get an outside table under the trees for them) with the lights of the city in the distance and it can be magical. The food is very good but its not anywhere near the above places (in NYC, they'd all get 3 or 4 stars and this place would be a very high 2 star that could make 3 if lucky). We go there every trip but its not our top line place. River Cafe/Water Club equivalent?

          Michel's: mixed opinions on this classic French place. Well worth the money, but is a mid 3 star at most. Warning: can be uneven in execution. Some nights magical, one felt very much time worn with them going thru the motions.

          Roy's: I'm not a fan.

          Hope this is helpful. Certainly got me excited to be coming back.

          1. re: Steve R
            j
            Joebob Mar 9, 2012 04:23 PM

            +1, but haven't been to Michel's or HK Roy's.

            1. re: Steve R
              phillybakingqueen Mar 10, 2012 01:17 PM

              You speak my language! :)

              I think I'm going to present them with the options and let them decide. Given what you and others have said, I personally would opt for Alan Wong. I just love an open kitchen....

              Thanks so much, Steve. I hope I can return the favor some time!

              1. re: phillybakingqueen
                Bill Hunt Mar 12, 2012 08:14 PM

                Now, AW's has a lovely "open kitchen," but to get the full effect, one needs to sit at the Chef's Counter. That can be a tad confining, but to me, it's worth the lack of table real estate, especially as the chefs spend a bunch of time talking, over that counter. Still, it is not for everyone.

                We recently dined at AW (King St.) and chose a table, for the first time in some years, but then we wanted to have a conversation with our guest, so we found that worthwhile. Had it just been my lovely wife, and me, we'd have done the Counter, for the 20th time.

                Enjoy,

                Hunt

                1. re: Bill Hunt
                  KaimukiMan Mar 12, 2012 08:17 PM

                  yep... but next time the chef's counter... LOL

          2. KaimukiMan Mar 9, 2012 07:33 PM

            Does anyone want to toss Hoku's into the mix. When it was new it was all the rage, and the food was wonderful. I haven't been in a few years, and it doesn't generate much chatter. Would anyone put this on the list to consider?

            and look at that, joebob and I in total agreement above. Excellent summary Steve R.

            1. h
              hungryhungryme Mar 10, 2012 10:03 PM

              keep in mind that la mer is currently closed for renovations...i would check to see if they're scheduled to be open in june!

              1. russkar Mar 11, 2012 09:57 AM

                If the Waterfront View isn't important than the best choice for food is Le Bistro.
                La Mer has really slipped the last couple of years and has never been as good as it was when Mavro was Chef.
                Second Choice would be Mavro (degustation Menu) followed by Azure.

                19 Replies
                1. re: russkar
                  Bill Hunt Mar 12, 2012 08:20 PM

                  Not sure that I can agree with that review. We have been dining there, from back in the Chef Mavro days, and have only had one quibble, and that was on wine service, about 5 years back. The food has always been great, though if they are closed for refurbishment, then things would definitely change. Chef Garnier has always done it for us, over all the years. Take away one really weak wine-service, and they would be at 100%, and that is almost from the day that they opened. Only missed two times, over about 25 years.

                  Still, it is a Classic French Twist on Hawaiian fare, so might not be what everyone is looking for.

                  To the OP - do check the status of the restaurant. When we were last at the Halekulani, they WERE planning for major renovations, but I did not recall those affecting La Mer, but might have been too far in the "future" for them to make mention of. Orchids and many other aspects of the hotel WERE getting a major re-do.

                  Hunt

                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                    KaimukiMan Mar 12, 2012 08:29 PM

                    It is odd that the Halekulani Website doesn't make mention of the closing, but trying to make a reservation through Open Table it said no reservations available for 8 weeks.

                    That could make the choice a little simpler

                    1. re: KaimukiMan
                      Bill Hunt Mar 12, 2012 09:04 PM

                      Hm-m, that might well tell the tale. The renovations ARE major, and maybe, when we did our "behind the scenes tour," La Mer was too far in the future, or maybe we just missed that part?

                      I'd definitely call, just to be sure, but they almost always have a few OT tables available.

                      Aloha,

                      Hunt

                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                        h
                        hungryhungryme Mar 12, 2012 09:37 PM

                        This page on their website might help...

                        http://www.halekulani.com/living/rene...

                        1. re: hungryhungryme
                          KaimukiMan Mar 13, 2012 03:52 PM

                          thanks hungry... i didn't find that page somehow. very helpful.

                          1. re: KaimukiMan
                            Bill Hunt Mar 13, 2012 08:45 PM

                            Yes, and I agree 100%. Maybe I was sipping too much wine, if the Halekulani staff mentioned it? I got many of the changes, and the timing for those, but not this one. "Stuff" happens. Maybe I can blame it on my lovely wife's lei, or something else?

                            Now I know much more, than before.

                            Mahalo,

                            Hunt

                            1. re: Bill Hunt
                              j
                              Joebob Mar 14, 2012 01:52 AM

                              Many a man has been brought down by a lovely lei...

                              1. re: Joebob
                                Bill Hunt Mar 14, 2012 06:49 PM

                                LOL!!!!

                                So very true, and especially if it's a white ginger lei, around my wife's neck...

                                Good one,

                                Hunt

                          2. re: hungryhungryme
                            Bill Hunt Mar 13, 2012 08:43 PM

                            Great link!

                            I would guess that the schedule of the renovations were not made, when we toured the property. No mention of La Mer was made, at that time.

                            Mahalo for the info. I think that we were too early in their program, to pick up on some other changes.

                            Aloha,

                            Hunt

                            1. re: Bill Hunt
                              manomin Mar 14, 2012 12:01 AM

                              I really like the La Mer chef Vikram Garg's food!

                              1. re: manomin
                                russkar Mar 14, 2012 12:56 PM

                                @ Manomin: I don't think Vikram will be on board after the remodel, at least that's what someone told me recently. I hope they don't remove my favorite table #30. I would like to see the menu re-vamped to a more modern concept, seems it hasn't changed much the last few years.

                                1. re: russkar
                                  Bill Hunt Mar 14, 2012 06:53 PM

                                  We most often do the "Chef's Tasting Menu," so maybe I do not read the full menu, as closely, as I should.

                                  What would you like to see changed?

                                  Last trip, we did Chef Mavro's "Retrospective Tasting Menu," that featured his "signature dishes" from the last 20 years +/-. Two were from his days at La Mer, but I only recalled one of those, Salt-crusted Snapper, IIRC. The other was very good, but just one that I had never had before.

                                  It will be interesting to see how this refurbishment goes. We have not planned our 2012 Hawai`i trip yet, but it will feature time on O`ahu, and we will be at La Mer, provided that they are open by then, whenever "then" is.

                                  Mahalo,

                                  Hunt

                                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                                    russkar Mar 14, 2012 07:56 PM

                                    @Hunt: We live 5 mins away from La Mer on the same Beach so it's very convenient to have dinner there. We've been many times over the last 25 yrs. We ALWAYS order the Chef's Tasting menu and it's been lack luster the last few years. Presentation always splendid but the taste and flavor is lacking. Many recent reviews on other sites seem to agree. Lot's of wine seems to compensate for the short comings along with great service from Stepan.
                                    Glad you enjoyed Mavro. I really like the
                                    "Degustation Menu" only and wasn't that impressed with his recent retrospect version.
                                    He lost his Chef de Cuisine to Disney several months ago.
                                    I'll be interested in your opinion of LE BISTRO which I'm confident will be a stellar experience.
                                    Alan Wong's has been doing some really good FM Dinners monthly which are pretty good. The reg Tasting menu has suffered with some "misses" the last couple of years but it's always dependable and reasonable. aloha
                                    Azure just was honored by Jame's Beard again and flew in their Chef for the annual dinner. We were invited to the test dinner along with 38 other people. Good stuff.

                                    1. re: russkar
                                      Bill Hunt Mar 15, 2012 07:40 PM

                                      Over the last five, or so years, we have not missed La Mer, and have had zero problems. We have enjoyed each, and almost 100%. The only issue that we have had, was about 6 years ago (I probably need to look at dates of reviews), where the sommelier was horribly distracted, and the servers tried to pick up the slack. They did not know what they were doing, and I had to put a stop to their struggles, and take the reins. Since that one bad experience, things have been very, very good, at least to us.

                                      Over the years, we have done several versions of the Tasting Menus at Chef Mavro's, and did enjoy the "Retro Menu," though, IIRC, the "main course" was the weakest. Maybe we were just too full by then? [That has happened before.] We loved the "look back," and also enjoyed those, that we had missed along the line. The Salt-crusted Snapper was outstanding, and it gave us an opportunity to spend some time, talking to Chef.

                                      We need to do Azure (based on your recs.) and will try to add Le Bistro. If you like it, then that is good enough for us to add them to the list.

                                      AW's has always come through for us, over all the years, that he's been open. Think that we hit there, within his first six months. While not every dish has been 100%, the worst that we have ever encountered has been good, with most at very good to excellent.

                                      I envy the locals, as we only get to dine on O`ahu, maybe 2 -3 times per year, and then often miss some very good events. Had to pass on one with AW, though we ARE doing a week with him, but in Tennessee!

                                      Mahalo,

                                      Hunt

                                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                                        russkar Apr 3, 2012 02:50 AM

                                        La Mer's new Chef is Alex Trancher from, Paris. Whole new menu and it should begin in June.

                                        1. re: russkar
                                          j
                                          Joebob Apr 3, 2012 07:21 PM

                                          Glad to read the chef is new. Maybe I'll try it again in a few months.

                                          1. re: Joebob
                                            russkar Apr 4, 2012 12:56 AM

                                            Supposed to be a major menu re-vamp. We'll be going soon too.

                              2. re: Bill Hunt
                                scottca075 Mar 22, 2012 03:27 PM

                                Just to clarify, it is not La Mer that is being remodeled/renovated, it is Orchids downstairs.

                                Orchids moved upstairs into La Mer's space because Orchids is the main dining room for the hotel serving all three meals (BLD) and then Sunday Brunch too.

                                There is a week lag time or so between Orchids moving back downstairs and La Mer reopening. I assume to get their kitchen back to the way they like it.

                                http://www.halekulani.com/living/rene...

                                1. re: scottca075
                                  Bill Hunt Mar 22, 2012 08:22 PM

                                  Scott,

                                  Greatly appreciate that update. I had not really checked closely, as our next trip will not be for some time, and while our tour did cover much of the property, I just did not recall the details on La Mer and Orchids. Maybe I need to pay close attention next time.

                                  Hunt

                    2. Dapuma Mar 26, 2012 02:38 PM

                      Just a quick question for everyone

                      Why is Morimoto's never on the list of top dining places? Is he just a name, from what i can tell he travels to most of his restaurants and actual cooks / prepares food depending on where he is at - is it only worth going if he actually cooking there that night?

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: Dapuma
                        russkar Mar 26, 2012 06:20 PM

                        I don't spend a lot of time debating with other CH's about Honolulu , especially because I live here and have my own opinions but we have had several fine dinners at Morimoto's , including opening night. Chef's tasting menu recommended.

                        1. re: Dapuma
                          Bill Hunt Mar 27, 2012 07:28 PM

                          Have not done the Honolulu establishment, but his Philadelphia restaurant was great.

                          Hunt

                          1. re: Dapuma
                            KaimukiMan Mar 28, 2012 06:54 PM

                            Morimoto's is quite new here, less than a year. And we tend to prefer 'local' establishments to chains. Nobu's is not often on the list either, although probably deserving of a spot. Favorites tend to need the right combination of great food and good memories, Morimoto's hasn't built up enough shared memories yet would be my guess.

                            1. re: KaimukiMan
                              Bill Hunt Mar 28, 2012 08:06 PM

                              Well-stated. That certainly makes sense to me. Maybe next trip, we'll get by?

                              Hunt

                              1. re: KaimukiMan
                                j
                                Joebob Mar 29, 2012 01:33 AM

                                My memory of Morimoto's is small portions of very good, very expensive food served properly in a lovely setting.

                                1. re: Joebob
                                  Bill Hunt Mar 29, 2012 08:00 PM

                                  That sort of typifies the Philadelphia location, though that is not all bad.

                                  Still, hope to do the Waikiki location, just to compare.

                                  Mahalo,

                                  Hunt

                                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                                    j
                                    Joebob Mar 30, 2012 02:20 AM

                                    Hi Hunt,

                                    I think it helps to know what to order. Some things were much better than other things.
                                    Good Chowing!

                                    Joebob

                                    1. re: Joebob
                                      Bill Hunt Mar 30, 2012 08:48 PM

                                      Gosh, you have me there. We hit the Philadelphia version, just after they opened, and were hosting two other couples. I cannot recall any culinary aspect, but did like the decor changing colors. At the end of the evening, all was good, to very good. but you are asking for much more, than I can accommodate.

                                      Sorry,

                                      Hunt

                                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                                        j
                                        Joebob Mar 31, 2012 12:04 AM

                                        Dear Hunt,

                                        Not trying to stretch you. I just remember we had some foie gras thing that was small and not nearly as good as the foie gras things we had in France, but the miso butterfish was wonderful. Oddly, it reminded me of a dish I had in a fancy Chinese rest. south of SF probably 20 years ago. A propos miso butterfish, Costco here has some marinating in plastic boxes that broil up pretty good for those with access to a broiler.

                                        Good eating!

                                        Joe

                                        P.S. The Thai Lao Rest in Kapolei keeps getting better and better. It now qualifies as a fine dining option . The House Chicken Salad scintillates, the Green Curry is very good, and the Whole Deep Fried Snapper in Garlic-Oil Sauce is to die for.

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